The WikiLeaks founder is so put upon that I hardly recognized him at first this week. The unrelenting cruelty that the US and Britain are inflicting on him for exposing their war crimes is shameful.
At the High Court in London this week, the United States dealt yet another blow to Julian Assange, the journalist and founder of WikiLeaks who continues to languish in a maximum-security prison.
I have covered Assange’s extradition hearings from the start and attended his High Court hearing this week remotely.
The court ruled in favor of the United States, allowing it to appeal a judge’s decision not to extradite Assange, on all of the five grounds it sought.
Originally, the United States had only been given permission on three out of five grounds. Among them were empty assurances not to place Assange under Special Administrative Measures or SAMs (a nice way of saying torture) – which it could withdraw at any time if Assange were to “misbehave.”
On Wednesday morning at the Royal Courts of Justice, the US disputed the two remaining grounds on which it was denied permission to appeal, claiming the expert witness who gave evidence citing Assange as a suicide risk was flawed, and that the judge who agreed with him, erred.
During last year’s extradition hearing in September and October, the prosecution repeatedly accused expert witnesses called by the defense of being biased in Assange’s favor or even having been paid by him.
The US prosecution called into question their expertise and integrity, a pattern that continues well into the appeals process.
The United States alleged, in particular, that Professor Michael Kopelman’s psychiatric evaluation of Assange misled the court. Not because of anything to do with medical sciences, but because he omitted the name of Stella Moris (the mother of Assange’s two children) from his report, for the sake of privacy.
At the time, the relationship between Assange and Moris was not publicly disclosed. Kopelman expressed concern for their safety, given the various threats, surveillance and targeting of Assange by US intelligence – including an attempt to harvest DNA from his child’s diapers.
In court, the prosecution’s Claire Dobbin coldly retorted: “Mr. Assange and his family being in a serious predicament […] or concerned by their safety, one clearly observed that certainly went by the wayside when it suited Mr. Assange leaking information to the purpose of his own fame.”
The prosecution also claimed that Kopelman’s evaluation was too partial, given he had relied on self-reporting from Assange – standard psychiatric practice.
One of the world’s leading neuropsychiatrists, the idea that Kopelman’s medical expertise is called into question because he omitted the name of Assange’s partner, is yet another absurdity, emblematic of the entire case.
Furthermore, Kopelman was not the only medical expert who testified. Numerous doctors, such as Dr. Deeley, all corroborated a very simple message: Assange is physically unwell, he also suffers from mental illness and will likely die if extradited to the US.
One needn’t rely solely on their medical expertise: I saw myself how tattered Assange looked as he was beamed in via video link; his hair ruffled, tie slung over his shoulders, wearing glasses, a black mask and white shirt, with the plaque ‘HMP Belmarsh’ hanging behind him.
He looked well beyond his 50 years, and I honestly didn’t even recognize him at first.
In court, referring to Prof. Kopelman, Dobbin stated “If an expert has misled the court, he has failed in his duty.”
While the US is complaining that Kopelman misled the court, one of their key witnesses, Sigurdur Thordarson, admitted to fabricating his witness testimony against Assange in exchange for immunity. So is lying and misleading the court only acceptable when it’s done on behalf of the Department of Justice?
Even after this explosive revelation, the United States was nevertheless granted permission to appeal. This falsified testimony has yet to be brought up in any of the proceedings. Thordarson’s statement helped form the basis of Baraitser’s ruling, where she alleged Assange had engaged in conspiracy to commit computer intrusion – commonly referred to as the ‘hacking-charge’.
An attempt to discredit Assange as a cybercriminal, this ‘hacking’ charge was never proven in court and has entirely collapsed. As Edward Snowden put it:
In her January 4 ruling, Baraitser had described the omission as an “understandable human response” to Ms. Moris’ predicament, and repeatedly stated that she accepted Kopelman’s medical evidence, discharging Assange on health grounds.
Despite this, at the High Court, Lord Justice Holroyde found that Kopelman had breached provision 19.9 of the Criminal Procedures Rules and ought to have made an application to omit Stella Moris’ identity.
The United States was subsequently given permission to appeal on all five grounds at a hearing to be held in October.
The prosecution claims that Judge Baraitser had erred in her overall assessment of Assange’s risk of suicide. However, Prof. Fazel and Dr. Blackwood, the two medical witnesses called by the prosecution, admitted that Assange suffered from depression and was at some risk of suicide, albeit to a lesser degree. Unlike Kopelman, however, they have never treated Assange and were uninformed about US prison conditions.
It was bad enough that Judge Baraitser had only blocked Assange’s extradition on health grounds, and sided with all the political charges leveled against the Australian journalist. Now, however, it seems that the only saving grace of section 91 of the Extradition Act, which prevents extradition if physically or psychologically oppressive, is being dismantled right before us.
The United States is so determined to exact revenge on Assange it is going to extraordinary lengths, leaving no stone unturned, in order to extradite him, where a conviction is all but guaranteed at Virginia’s ‘Espionage Court’ – where whistleblower Daniel Hale was sentenced only two weeks ago for exposing the US’ horrific drone killings.
Undoubtedly, for the United States, three out of five grounds would not suffice. It sought to appeal on all five, to ensure the eventual success of its case against Assange, and the extra-territorialization of its draconian laws. Joe Biden is simply picking up where Trump left off and making sure that anyone challenging US intelligence agencies and its war machine is made an example of.
As a result of January’s ruling and this week’s, the entire focus of Assange’s case in court has shifted solely toward his health and away from the very real and dangerous threat it presents to all journalists and publishers.
Now we’re no longer discussing the United States’ attack on press freedoms and its war crimes which WikiLeaks exposed. We’re no longer dealing with witness testimony from victims of CIA torture, analysts at Iraq Body Count, or historians, lawyers, human rights advocates and journalists.
The facts that US intelligence spied on Assange while he was in the Ecuadorian embassy, including his conversations with his lawyers, violating his attorney-client privilege and right to due process, or the numerous travesties and wrongdoing surrounding this case, are not even brought up.
Naturally, this very much pleases the United States, as focus is shifted away from its crimes. The architects of the War on Terror are never held to account, and the mainstream media does not even bother to report on this indictment, let alone point out how rife it is with foul play.
While the US has yet to obtain the final result it seeks, it is still succeeding in its mission against Assange and sending a message to adversarial journalists everywhere. The legal process is dragged out as long as possible by its unrelenting pursuit of the WikiLeaks founder. Assange doesn’t necessarily even have to be extradited nor convicted in order to feel the full wrath of the United States government.
Arbitrarily detained for seven years in the Ecuadorian embassy, and more than two years in Belmarsh jail – a journalist, who has been convicted of no crime and is not even serving a sentence, continues to languish in a maximum security prison under threat of extradition and up to 175 years in a federal super max penitentiary.
And that’s precisely what the United States wants: to make the process the punishment.